2115 The Complete Wizard's Handbook review

The last of the Core Player Class books was released in July of 1990, and was written by Rick Swan. Before we begin, I would like to say something that I have been waiting to write about until we got to this book. I think that we all walk into the game for the first time with preconceptions about what should and shouldn’t happen in the game, and some of these are utterly false. Before rolling up my character, and reading through the rules for the first time, I wondered why the stats didn’t change. Couldn’t one get a higher STR, or work on improving their DEX naturally? Well, the answer is that this is a game, and it really doesn’t matter what your STR or DEX is, not in the long run, but that misconception was there, and an even bigger confusion for new players first walking into the game is the wizard class.

We all know what a wizard is, or at least we think that we do, we’ve read about him in fiction, and watched his antics in movies. This is probably the most attractive class for new players who have no idea just how weird the mechanics are for it.Many players hadn't read anything by Jack Vance prior to playing the game. I understand why the Vance method of spell casting was chosen, if it wasn’t then the other classes would be over-shadowed and this would no longer be a cooperative game, but that doesn’t change the fact that we might not really be able to play our version of what we think that this class SHOULD be.

There is also another common complaint that players have about 2e: At low levels the characters are incompetent (which I don’t find to be true, but assuming that it is), no 1st level PC is harder to keep alive than the Wizard. The wizard is attractive to first time players, and it is the hardest class to play. Experienced players love the challenge! You are playing a completely different game than everybody else is, and once you figure that out, then you can start keeping these guys alive and if you play smart, you’ll be the most powerful guy at the table. The problem is, getting good at this class. By the Summer of 1990, very few players were good at this class, and not very many Dungeon Masters knew how to DM for them. Even though it seems like most of the PHB and DMG is dedicated to the mage, there was a much left unexplained. A lot of work was done in Dragon Magazine, but as far as reference materials, Dragon has never been at the top of the list for ease of use; which is where this book comes to play.

Like its predecessors, this book is dated , but it works well in conjunction with the core handbooks. Lets crack it open and see what is inside!

CHAPTER 1: Schools of Magic

This new mechanic put a wrench in lots of games, add the bloated list of spells which 2e offers and it doesn’t make sense, unless you ponder the school system. Under 1e rules all wizards were pretty much the same. You play one, you’ve played them all. What the school system sought was unique mages, or a system that made world building easier. Instead of inventing your own magic system, you might simply pick a few schools, put them at odds with one another, and make general wizards a crime punishable by death and you are good to go!

The schools, as explained in the PHB, left much to be desired; but this book does an excellent job of properly explaining each school, and offering a decent template to use. It still doesn’t enforce the adoption of dedicated schools, but it does make it attractive.

CHAPTER 2: Creating New Schools

This chapter works over-time and is very helpful to those people who are crazy enough to want to world build. Not only do you have suggestions and minimum requirements for creating new schools of magic, but you also get a great collection of material which allows you to create your own spells that can be easily excepted into the existing magic system. This is the formula which TSR used, and instead of keeping it a secret, they shared it with the users, which is awesome!

CHAPTER 3: Wizard Kits

Just like the other books in the Complete Series, this offers options and ideas for stepping outside of the box and tailoring specific kinds of wizards for your campaign. Many of these kits are for low technology, savage societies, or examples of altering the class without actually altering the schools of magic, which is helpful in world-building.

CHAPTER 4: Role-Playing

As I’ve said before, role-playing is a strange concept to new players, and through role-playing we can take common classes and make them into unique characters, and since everybody already has established ideas about what a wizard is prior to play, this chapter helps us shatter that mold, and role-playing while playing the wizard class is something that you are going to do a lot of! Especially since the only interaction you have during combat is knowing when and when not to use your small list of spells that you have allotted to you.

Of all the Core Class Complete books, I think that this role-playing section is the most advanced, which is appropriate, especially considering the limitations of our preconceived notions about what it is to be a wizard. It also talks to the DM about his NPCs, there are only so many times that going out and fighting the evil necromancer up in the haunted mountain of doom is going to be fun, but it also encourages DMs to not just write adventures for Fighters, but always examining the wizard class’s role in the party and providing him with things to do which won’t drain him of his abilities in the first 10 minutes of play.

It is my opinion that not only is the wizard class the most difficult to play, but it is the most difficult to DM for. This chapter helps out those poor DM’s who had never been allowed to play for a few years before becoming or being forced to DM, but it also gives the players who read it an edge at keeping their pathetic PC with 4hp alive . . . maybe.

CHAPTER 5: Combat & the Wizard

This is what helped make the class playable for many first timers. It gives you advice on how to choose your spells wisely. According to the core rules, spells are selected prior to play, and while that sounds limiting, it does give the person who is playing it more time to game, because he is spending less time looking over his spell lists. Combat is the most dangerous time to be a wizard, and people who try to play the class like they are fighters are going to be rolling up a new character before combat is finished.

It also addresses the weapon restriction, and how much a DM can lift it if he chooses too.  This is complained about by players, but at higher levels, it is going to be the fighter that is complaining about his inability to strike multiple targets at once, so in the end it balances itself out.

CHAPTER 6: Casting Spells in Unusual Conditions

I want to say that much of this chapter is in the DMG, but this book puts it into the player’s hands, and it is more expanded and better explained then the basic rules kept secret in the DMG. All sorts of fun ideas are in here; of course tips on world-building, but also pointing out what can happen if a mage's senses are impaired.  Many DM’s have a hard time calling a game for Wizards unless they’ve played one. Subtle changes to the environment can alter how a spell functions, and by looking at what happens to spells when they are cast underwater, or by realizing that a wizard who is silenced can still cast some spells, it allows the DM to have a better chance of making a call correctly regardless of the exact circumstances that can come up during play.

CHAPTER 7: Advanced Procedures

by: Clyde Caldwell
Unlike the other books in the Core Complete series, this one has guidelines to take a wizard beyond 20th level, which is crazy as I find that the integrity of the system is barely stable at 20th level, never the less 32nd level! But that is just my perspective,; to each their own! But that is a very small fraction of what this chapter offers. The most important aspect of playing the wizard isn’t the rules themselves but the player’s ability to think creatively. As we gain experience as players, we come up with all sorts of tricks as we’ve learned how to be creative with spell casting, this chapter examines 18 common spells and offers some ideas on using them, and/or offer further guidelines for spells that had proven to be game busters for DM’s.

Some spells were just poorly written in the PHB, notably Illusions. It offered no hints or guidelines for a player to go by, so this chapter spends a bit more time talking about what these spells can and can’t accomplish, and I feel that once you've learned how to play and DM for an Illusionist, you can play or DM anything!

It also has more complete rules which define Spell Research, which is an ability gained at middle-high level that allows a mage to create their own spells, as well as creating magical items.

CHAPTER 8: New Spells

For those of you who felt that the list of spells in the PHB wasn’t bloated enough, here are even more of them! Not surprisingly, this still didn’t convince people that enough is enough. Why offer methods of creating your own spells if you are going to exhaust them all? People went crazy for this kind of stuff though, and they still do.

CHAPTER 9: Wizardly Lists

This may sound archaic, but back when we were first playing the game, there was no such thing as the World Wide Web. There were no blogs, or anything! We got ideas from actually talking to each other, and if an idea was really good, and really fun, then it might make it into Dungeon or Dragon Magazine! This chapter has been replaced by all of the silly ideas that we bloggers have come up with over the years, but guess what . . . these lists are still fun!

Bringing magic schools to life (way before Harry Potter), random crap that can be found in a wizard’s lab, new magical items, stuff just waiting to be enchanted, there is a good assortment of this-and-that which stimulates personal creativity rather than limit it to what is published.


Finally you get two items that you can photocopy and use to design your own schools of magic, as well as you own kits. It would had been nice to have a character sheet and spell sheets back here as well, but that is what makes me such a crummy capitalist.

By Lerry Elmore

Flipping through this book, much like The Complete Priest’sHandbook, it would appear that there is nothing in it but fluff, however once you begin reading this thing, it becomes obvious just what $15 could bring to the table. It encouraged DMs to write for the players, and teaches the joy of background events! I, however, don’t feel that it is as complete as it should have been. It addressed many things, but it also left a lot to be desired, for instance a list of spells which are expensive to cast, spells that are actually quest spells but they had been snuck in there anyway, and better definitions for spell books and common components found in a spell casters bag all would had been helpful, but with a class as customizable as this one is, the more rules that we apply to it, the less functional it becomes when world-building.

Regardless of what we may think about it, the fact is that PHBR4 was the standard for many many years. Yes, other spells were added in later publications, but these rules stayed core and unchanged until Player’s Option:Spells & Magic was released in 1996, and even today, many 2e players prefer this handbook over the updated version. One can say that the Player’s Option book didn’t rewrite the facts found in this book, but simply provided an addendum to it.

While The Complete Wizard's Hanbook did accomplish its goal of aiding players in excepting the Vance system of magic as the base, and providing tons of ideas to add to our arsenal of ideas, is this book required to play the game? No. Did it push the genre further? Yes, I believe that it did. I feel that this book can add things to our campaigns regardless of skill level, while it may overwhelm a beginner, even just reading the thing will improve his game, and for advanced users, it offer's enough to keep this book around.

At the time of its release, I will admit that I didn’t read it. I never read it until after I was already DMing games. I had ran into several problems in regards to DMing for wizard PCs: they were ripping my world apart and/or getting bored because lack of attention. Memorizing the entire spell list in the PHB is not an option, but this book helped me address and fix the situations above. For that, I give it a rating of a B. It will enhance your 2e games, if not actually improve them.

The Complete Wizard's Handbook is not a collectors item; it has been reprinted many many times and left unaltered. As far as value, I’d price it from 5-10 bucks, $15 for a really good copy, but no higher than $20, and that would be reserved for 1st printing that is in perfect condition.

The book itself wears the same as the rest of the books in the complete series; careless abuse causes the cover to fall off, and pages to fall out, but if it is kept on a shelf and properly used, it will last forever without the glue spontaneously getting crispy. I’ve  got the 1st printing and it has held up like a champ!


Unknown said...

Just want to say thank you for the write up.

evildm said...

wonderful read. I have to revisit this old tome. Thanks

RipperX said...


Brooser Bear said...

One of the best books in the series. I love the random spell components table! I broke away from the Vancian magic system early on, to make magic users more playable. They can use a light crossbow and learn to use a short sword, at least. One of the first thing I did, was make use of the schools of magic listed for each spell in the PH, and made players choose a level in particular school. It got more complex, with spells within schools operating as skills within skills, and then I rooted various schools in specific places in Midlands, and then wizards have to learn ancient languages and lore to actually be able to access spells for their grimoires. Results were functional and well balanced, but to become a powerful wizard, the player had to be actually interested in magic and the world.

RipperX said...

Back when I first played, I never learned to use the Vance method, our table always used spell points, and wizards could cast any spell, we didn't use spell books, the logic being that we had paid money for game books with additional spells not in the handbook, so we were going to use them! Well that system was terrible. I mean really bad! So when we started playing again, I wanted to try the Vance method to see how it goes and we all loved it! Prior to that, we had made wizards so complicated with house rules that nobody wanted to play one.

In regards to melee weapons, I've been thinking about altering the damage done by class. Any weapon a wizard picks up (be it a sword or a staff) will do 1d4 dmg. The fighter's mechanics I think could be 1d10 for prof., 1d12 for specialization, but you can also pick your dice. I'm just not sure about how I really feel about doing that. I kind of like different weapons having different damage values. I also don't know if it would cheapen that game.

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